People & Leadership

Quiet quitting: Why it’s an opportunity not a threat for HR and business leaders

In this article, we delve into quiet quitting and provide tips to help you support your employees.

woman working in office

Quiet quitting – good, bad, or passing fad?

Although it’s become a viral phenomenon since trending on TikTok, the concept of quiet quitting isn’t new.

Employees the world over have actively withdrawn from their work at various moments in time, choosing to just do the bare minimum and not go over their contractual hours.

However, the aftermath of the pandemic and the current economic downturn is fuelling higher job dissatisfaction than we have seen in a long time.

The average UK worker now carries out approximately 22 days’ worth of overtime a year, with women clocking up 6.8 extra hours of overtime each month compared to their male counterparts. 

Throw in the high rate of inflation and essentially those working longer hours are doing so for less pay.

In this article, we delve into quiet quitting and provide tips to help you support your employees.

Here’s what we cover:

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Is quiet quitting on the rise?

Gallup report states that, staggeringly, only 15% of employees globally are truly actively engaged at work, which means up to 85% could be quiet quitting.

The numbers are a little better for the US, with 33% of employees engaged at work; while in the UK, it’s super low at 8%. However, all of these numbers have been on a steady decline over the past decade.

Although Gallup’s definition of those that are not engaged at work – people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job – could describe those that are hailed as quiet quitters, it’s not as black and white as that.

Disengaged or just recalibrating?

Quiet quitting is a disengagement of sorts, but it doesn’t necessarily mean every single employee who withdraws is disengaged.

There are multiple reasons behind why an employee might choose to ‘quietly quit’, and it doesn’t mean they’re going to do it permanently.

It could be a phase while they deal with personal matters outside of work, or perhaps they’ve reached burnout and it’s simply a way of regaining some control while they take care of their wellbeing.

Obviously, there will be those that really are disengaged and actively looking for a new role.

There’s always natural churn in any company and no one wants to hang on to an employee who really doesn’t want to work there any longer.

However, tarring all quiet quitters with the same brush is not advised. It’s important to find out what’s going on for each individual employee and see what support they might need.

5 things HR can do to support the business and its employees

From an HR perspective, we don’t think quiet quitting should be viewed as good or bad – more that it’s something that is likely to happen from time to time and It’s important to have greater awareness of it.

In fact, we believe it’s an opportunity to engage more with employees.

It’s a chance to find out what is going on for the individual employee, and teams, and to see if there are ways the business and the manager can better support that person further.

Here are five things HR and People leaders can do to support both the business and employees when it comes to understanding and boosting engagement in light of quiet quitting.

1. Be aware of the types and levels of quiet quitters

It’s important for managers not to assume that every employee who isn’t actively engaged is a quiet quitter.

The steady Joe’s of the world, for example, while not necessarily in the high achiever category, are still a vital part of any team.

They show up, do what’s asked of them, and head home.

They’re reliable, consistent, and complete their tasks on time with no complaint.

On paper, they may seem disengaged because they may not always go the extra mile or show much enthusiasm for taking on extra responsibilities. However, they’re likely to be very satisfied in their role and loyal to the company.

Every team may have these, and that’s OK. It’s important to acknowledge the role of different personalities, types of working, and value they bring – even if it isn’t as noticeable as the contribution from the top performers in your organisation.

It’s the employees who are usually highly engaged, motivated and driven who suddenly start behaving differently that could fall into the quiet quitting category.

Burnout and stress are big drivers for quiet quitting.

Employees reach a point where they have no more left to give.

They’re spent and perhaps don’t want to draw attention to this fact, so quietly decide to just do their allotted hours and not put their heart and soul into projects for a while, so they can recharge.

These are not permanent quiet quitters, and it’s important to understand workloads and other potential drivers in order to respond and rectify the issues leading to a step back from these workers.

Then you might have the employee who gives their all but just doesn’t get the recognition they deserve. The manager just isn’t aware of or seeing their value.

They eventually feel unappreciated and undervalued and pull their heart away from the job.

These are the quiet quitters where intervention is key as they can be transformed with the right support and attention from the manager.

Finally, you have the employee whose personal circumstances might have changed – they might be going through a relationship breakup, the loss of a loved one, caring for a sick relative, moving house – and they simply aren’t as motivated or engaged at work because life has taken over.

Again, these are unlikely to be permanently in the quiet quitting category, but it’s important for managers to be mindful of these situations and offer the right support.

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2. Understand the needs of the different generations

Although having a healthy work-life balance is becoming more of a priority for most generations, data suggests that for Gen Z it’s a real key driver to feeling engaged, valued, and productive in the workplace.

More than 40% of Gen Zers rank stress and burnout as the second highest reason to quit a job.

Meanwhile, millennials are three times more likely to stay in a job when they feel it has meaning, and twice as likely to stay when they feel their voice is valued.

For your Gen X employees, they value flexibility as they’re more likely to be juggling their time between children, elderly parents, and work. In fact, more than 80% cite work flexibility when evaluating the prospect of a job.

As HR and People leaders, your role is to help the rest of the business understand the different needs of the workplace generations to ensure your organisation is creating a happy, healthy work culture for everyone.  

3. Test and experiment with new ways of working

During the pandemic, many employees proved they could work just as productively from home and gained a better work-life balance as a result.

Since then, many organisations have introduced hybrid working, requesting that staff come into the workplace two to three days a week and work from home on the other days, while others have required employees to come back full time.

It’s important that employees are given options around how and when they work to avoid losing them to a more flexible employer.

If your company needs people physically in the office, can you experiment with the number of days they’re needed in?

Can you help team leaders test new ways of working using different technology or processes? Are there ways for teams to work more collaboratively or agile?

With the right HR technology, you can help drive innovative ways of working and change the culture so line managers and business leaders see testing and experimenting as a key part of how the organisation should and can work.

4. Keep track of the mood of the business with analytics and surveys

Tapping into your people data is vital.

This is where your HR tech can play a key role. It will allow you to analyse your HR and People data to spot trends to see if there are any patterns emerging in certain departments or among certain teams that might indicate a high level of employees who may have checked out.

For example, is there a high level of churn from one team? Have productivity levels fallen across one area of the business?

Carrying out regular employee pulse surveys will also give you a strong indication of the mood of employees across the organisation.

Even if they are anonymised, you’ll still gain a picture if satisfaction levels are suddenly worsening in one particular area of the business and can begin investigating the reasons why.

5. Create personalised, tailored employee experiences

As we’ve mentioned, every employee is unique with their own set of needs, expectations, and challenges, so creating a one-size-fits-all employee experience won’t cut it.

As HR leaders, you can help your organisation create personal, tailored employee experiences that deliver real value to your staff – from onboarding, right the way through the employee experience.

For example, design personalised workflows to send timely, automated communications such as welcome emails for new starters, and create customised communications to groups of employees, based on location or function.

Is your tech providing the same slick experience employees are used to outside of work?

If not, this can also be a major frustration for workers, particularly the younger generations.

Look at introducing an HR system that gives employees access from any device at any time and empowers them to manage their own leave requests and other personal information.

What’s the recognition and reward policy like in your company? When was it last updated?

Again, there are smart things you can do with a cloud HR system, such as real-time feedback and call outs for great work using peer recognition, that will motivate employees to do their best work and feel valued.

Final thoughts: Be mindful, create a climate for conversation, and lead by example

HR can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s important that your organisation and its leaders lead by example.

Ultimately, addressing the issue of quiet quitting starts with a conversation. It’s an opportunity for a manager to check in with their team members and ask how they’re doing.

If nothing else, it creates a culture of kindness and support, and will reinforce that the business does truly care about its employees.

Likewise, creating a culture where people are mindful of each other’s different needs and personal circumstances can also go a long way to ensuring your organisation doesn’t have a high level of disengaged workers.

Knowing it’s OK to say when they have too much on their plate or they need to leave on time because they have to pick up their children creates a caring, understanding workplace that will help to attract and retain top talent.

Those employees, in turn, feel engaged, loyal to the company, and happy to work for an employer who cares and understands that before workers they are foremost human.

HR in 2030

Read this report to discover five trends progressive People Leaders need to know to get ahead and help their organisations thrive.

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2,449 readers have downloaded this report